Here’s How You Can Help All Austinites Gain Access To Healthy Food

Broccoli

Let me tell you a little story.

Once upon a time, there was a group of Austinites who were really concerned about the lack of access to healthy food in their community. Thirteen zip codes in Travis County don’t even have a grocery store and as housing prices continue to rise, many families have less and less money available to spend on food.

So they decided to do something about it. In the end, they were able to dedicate $400,000 every year from the city’s budget to support healthy food access in Austin (and get a full-time staff member to help manage it all). The funding now goes to supporting programs like community farm stands, mobile markets, healthy corner stores, and a nutritious food incentive program.

Of course, there’s still a lot more work to be done. Next up is conducting a market analysis of where Austin’s food retail stores are located… and where there are gaps.

But it was a big win.

So how did they do it?

A lot of hard work from nonprofit organizations, city staff, local elected officials (in particular, Council Member Delia Garza) and the Austin-Travis County Food Policy Board.

Want to be involved in making positive impacts like these in your community? You’re in luck because the Austin-Travis County Food Policy Board is looking for some new members just like you. 

The Austin-Travis County Food Policy Board is one of the city’s many boards and commissions. It’s basically just an advisory group, made up of volunteers (who live in Austin and Travis County) and are interested in our local food system.

In an interview with the Austin EcoNetwork, Karen Magid (who is the Director of Sustainability and STEM for Huston-Tillotson University and the Vice Chair of the Food Policy Board) explained that serving on the board really makes her feel likes she’s having a positive impact.

“It’s really great to feel like an involved citizen,” Karen said. “It makes me feel more involved in my community.”

More about the Food Policy Board

The city has dozens of different advisory boards and commissions, covering everything from parks, to transportation, to women’s rights.

What makes the Food Policy Board a little unique is that encompasses both the city and the county, which means that its members get to help influence policy and advise both Austin City Council and the Travis County Commissioners’ Court.

(Travis County is the county that includes most of Austin, as well as Pflugerville, Elgin, and Bee Cave. The Commissioners’ Court is the chief policy-making body in the county.)

So what does the Food Policy Board actually do?

“Advisory body to the City Council and Travis County Commissioners’ Court concerning the need to improve the availability of safe, nutritious, locally, and sustainably-grown food at reasonable prices for all residents, particularly those in need, by coordinating the relevant activities of city government, as well as non-profit organizations, and food and farming businesses. See Section 2-1-170 of the City Code for additional duties.” – City of Austin website description of the Food Policy Board

In plainer language, Karen laid out a few key things that the Food Policy Board is responsible for, including:

  • Protecting, strengthening, and developing the local food system
  • Advocating for our local food system, from farmland preservation to healthy food access
  • Advising the city and county on the best policy options when it comes to food, since many of the board members are experts in sustainability/healthy food
  • Serving as an accountability check on local government – Are local food programs working well? How are they performing?
  • Passing official resolutions and recommending budgets to help guide the decisions of Austin City Council and the Travis County Commissioners’ Court

So how do they actually get this work done?

The Food Policy Board itself meets for several hours once a month. They’ve also created four working groups where a lot of the actual work of creating policy recommendations, etc. gets done. The working groups are open to the public and usually include not just Food Policy Board members, but also professionals working in food-related fields and other Austinites who are just interested in the topic.

The working groups are:

  • Healthy Food Security and Access
  • Building Opportunities for Food Entrepreneurs
  • Food and Climate
  • Support Farms and Farmers

Need more specific examples of what they do?

Like we mentioned earlier, the effort to get $400,000 added to the city budget included the Food Policy Board, and specifically the Healthy Food Security and Access Working Group.

The Food and Climate Working Group has also been busy, helping to incorporate the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from our food sector into our city’s Community Climate Plan. They created a white paper with several recommendations, including exploring opportunities to make plant-based proteins more available in the consumer market, bringing composting access to people who live in apartments/condos, and developing a comprehensive farmland preservation plan.

So where do I fit in?

Right now, the Food Policy Board has four open positions.

How do I apply?

  1. Fill out the application form online
  2. Reach out to elected officials
    1. Members of the Food Policy Board are appointed by Mayor Steve Adler and the Travis County Commissioners (contact info for Mayor Adler is available here; and here for the Commissioners)
    2. After filling out your application, be sure to send an email and call these elected officials in order to advocate for yourself and explain why you think you’d be a good fit for the Food Policy Board
  3. Send an email to Karen (BC-Karen.Magid@austintexas.gov)
    1. Explain why you want to be a Food Policy Board member and include your resume
    2. If you seem qualified and excited about the position, current board members might be able to reach out to the elected officials and advocate on your behalf

PS – One more tip from Karen – “We are looking for really engaged people,” explained Karen in her AEN interview. “And one of the strongest ways you can show that you’re an engaged person is starting to get involved with a working group.”

So if you’re seriously interested in joining the Food Policy Board, start showing up for working groups now, even as you’re going through the application process. Showing up for working groups is also another great way to get you prepared to apply to serve on the Food Policy Board later down the line, if you want to get a little more experience under your belt first.

Sound like too big of a commitment? Here are some other options for getting involved:

Still unsure if you should get involved? Worried that you won’t fit in? Concerned that you’re not enough of an expert to really contribute?

Don’t be shy! As Karen explained, the Food Policy Board is looking for “diverse, engaged voices.” You don’t have to have a PhD in nutrition to get involved. You just have to be passionate and knowledgable about your own community, and the experiences you’ve faced in accessing healthy food.

“…more diverse voices, always,” Karen said, “I mean that is always beneficial to every topic.”

 

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